Friday, April 30, 2010

30. Word Freak

Fatsis, Stefan. Word Freak. ISBN: 978-0-14-200226-1. Penguin Books. First Edition, 2001.

Plot Summary
Reporter Stefan Fatsis has always had a fascination with words and has been interested in the game of scrabble since he was a teenager. By professional scrabble standards his skills at best make him a good living room player. Guided by his scrabble fascination, Fatsis begins to play with regular scrabble enthusiast's in New York's Washington Square Park. Fastis begins to learn from the players hustling him at the park, and these games eventually lead to his involvement in structured scrabble tournaments in New York scrabble clubs. Fatsis become obsessed with increasing his low scrabble ranking and continues to enter tournament after tournament in hopes of increasing his score. The higher your score, the better chance you have of qualifying for one of the major scrabble tournaments. Fatsis assures players in these tournaments that he is a reporter, but slowly he becomes one of them; a lost soul obsessed with words and scores. Along this crazy journey Fatsis meets a colorful cast of scrabble characters, including: the pill-popping stand up comedian Matt Graham, the militant Marlon Hill, and geniuses Joel Sherman and Joe Edley. Fatsis documents the success and failures of this group as they travel across American competing for high scores, glory, and cash prizes.

Critical Evaluation
Stefan Fatsis begins his journey in Word Freak as an interested Scrabble reporter, but leaves a devoted fan and contender. He dedicates every free second he has to learning the two and three letter words that will increase his scrabble rating and gain him the respect he wants from the scrabble community. Fatsis weaves his memoir of life in the professional scrabble circuit with the interesting history, philosophies, and strategies of the game. The various cast of characters he meets along the way are as different as can be, but they all have one commonality, an obsessive personality and the drive to become the best.

Fatsis explores the theme of obsession from the very beginning of the book, by discussing the trial and error in inventing Scrabble by unemployed Architect Alfred Butts during the Great Depression. Little did Mr. Butt's know that his obsessive personality over making the perfect board game for people to play during the Depression, would carry over to those who took the game and turned it into a lifestyle. Fatsis discusses the culture of Scrabble just as much as he discusses his struggle to become one of the best. His interest in the lives of Scrabble's great players gives readers a behind the scenes look at who these people are and why they devote their lives to a game most readers might only play casually with family and friends. Word Freak takes readers on a thrilling ride through the ups and downs of tournament play, and for better or worse, shines a new light on the lives of a small devoted subculture in America. Fatsis turns the subject of a board game into the journey of an unlikely hero, as he takes on word giants in the arena of professional Scrabble.

Reader's Annotation
Scrabble is one of the most popular board games in America, but for a small group of players, this game is a way of life. Reporter Stefan Fatsis, a self proclaimed "word freak," turns his fascination for Scrabble into a journey that will lead him from small games in Central Park to the Scrabble World Championships.

Author Information
Stefen Fatsis is an author, sports reporter, and regular contributor to National Public Radio. His he written two novels in addition to Word Freak, including: A Few Seconds of Panic: A Sportswriter Plays in the NFL and Wild and Outside. Fatsis has had an interesting career, beginning with covering hockey and soccer games for his local paper in Pelham, New York. In 1995, Fatsis was hired to cover sports for the Wall Street Journal. In 1997, Fatsis became a regular contributor to the NPR morning radio show "All Things Considered." Fatsis continues to write from his home in Washington D.C., and is a regular on various sports podcasts and television programs.

journalism, hobbies

Curriculum Ties


Book Talking Ideas
Discuss the obsessions of the different scrabble players.

Reading Level
Grade 10+

Challenge Issues
drug use, language

Challenge defense ideas:
1. Make sure you are familiar with your library collection and the book in question.
2. Be familiar with your library collection policy.
3. If possible, speak with the person challenging the material and make sure they feel comfortable. Ask the customer what they disliked or disapproved of in the resource. If they still insist on challenging the material give them instructions on how to file a formal complaint.
4. Research professional reviews that speak to the material's merit, and get input from teen readers on why they found the book important.

Reason For Selection
One of my friend's younger brothers, who is a senior in high school, is always playing a Scrabble application on his iPhone. Then the more I started to look around the more I began to notice other teens doing the same. I felt that with the resurgence of this classic board game on cell phones, a book about Scrabble strategy and history might be of interest to teen readers.

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